Three Favorite Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

July 18, 2017, marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, my favorite (deceased) author.

JASNA Truth Universally Acknowledged Book Always Better

To honor her work, we rewatched all of the screen adaptations that we could easily get our hands on.

Jane Austen Rewatch Owned Adaptations

Here, in short, are three of my absolute favorites. (For links to the complete reviews, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.)

Sense and Sensibility (anonymously published in 1811) is by far my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite adaptation is the Andrew Davies miniseries (directed by John Alexander; 2008). It stars Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne. Both were new to me, but I was familiar with the significant male actors: Dan Stevens (Mr. Edward Ferrars) is in the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, David Morrissey (Colonel Brandon) portrays the confused faux-Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor”, and Dominic Cooper (Mr. Willoughby) as young Howard Stark scratches science to see if it bleeds in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter (and rules as King Llane Wrynn in the Warcraft movie).

It was a gutsy choice of Davies to begin the series with Willoughby’s explicit seduction of a 15-year-old girl, an event which happens very much off-screen in the novel and most adaptations, but becomes the crux of the plot.

The series does have some issues. For example, the Devonshire “cottage” that the financially strained Dashwood ladies had to accept was turned into a literal cottage instead of a good, solid house from the novel. The events are condensed, sure, but their pace doesn’t feel rushed like in the movie versions. Most of the writing, acting, propping, and costuming are solid to excellent.

Jane Austen Rewatch Three Favorites

Emma (1815) was the fourth and last of Austen’s works to be published during her lifetime, and the Emma miniseries from 2009 (adapted by Sandy Welch, directed by Jim O’Hanlon) outshines the other adaptations. (Unsuprisingly, the miniseries format serves Austen’s nuance much better than the movie length.)

The version has several strengths, starting with excellent casting. Romola Garai stars as Emma Woodhouse, and Jonny Lee Miller (who has more recently – and deservedly – starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary) as Mr. Knightley. Miller’s is by far the most enjoyable Mr. Knightley performance I’ve seen. Mr. Knightley is often played as rather curt and strict, which I find not just offputting but a mistake.

All major characters are introduced at the beginning of episode 1, which helps people new to Austen. Moreover, this version does the epilogue clearly and succinctly, without massive infodumping. In addition, I immensely enjoy the music, the set dressing, costuming and propping, and other visuals. It’s a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable Emma. In fact, if the same team were to make other Austen adaptations, I’d go to great lenghts to see them.

Finally, Persuasion is a novel of pressures, choices, and second chances, posthumously published in 1817. The 1995 movie version of Persuasion is excellent. The screenplay is by Nick Dear, and Roger Mitchell directed Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth. I really like Root’s understated and considerate version of Anne; Hinds works well enough even if a few scenes tend towards hammy.

Although the picture quality is grainy, the soundtrack is nice and there are subtitles (not a given on older DVDs). The props, locations, and costuming are also great. This is my favorite version so far—in an ideal world, of course, we would be due another adaptation.

For links to the complete mini-reviews of these and all of the other adaptations, visit my post A Jane Austen Rewatch Project for the 200th Anniversary of Her Passing.

Images: Book is always better screencap from JASNA website. Both DVD images by Eppu Jensen.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

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Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

We’ve now rewatched and rated season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and it is over too soon! Season 3 is several episodes shorter than the first two seasons (on 8 episodes, compared with 13). The quality of the episodes also suffers a little in the third season, but it was still a delight to watch.

  1. “Death Defying Feats” – 6
  2. “Murder and the Maiden” – 7.5
  3. “Murder and Mozzarella” – 7
  4. “Blood and Money” – 7
  5. “Death and Hysteria” – 7
  6. “Death at the Grand” – 4
  7. “Game, Set, and Murder” – 6
  8. “Death Do Us Part” – 6

The average for this season is 6.3, a bit of a step down from the previous season’s 7.1, but still perfectly respectable. Most of the season’s episodes are at least average and there’s a good bunch of 7s.

Our diminished enjoyment of this season can be largely put down to one cause: Phryne’s father, who pops up in several episodes and dominates the season’s low point, “Death at the Grand,” which we rated only a 4. He is a selfish, irresponsible man who aggravates Phryne and us. Fiction, of course, is not real life; sometimes terrible people make for great characters, but this is not one of them. All Phryne’s father does for us is to put a damper on the wit, sparkle, and verve that we love this series for.

To balance that, the high point of the season is “Murder and the Maiden,” an interesting and complicated mystery surrounding the death of a pilot who turns out to have been leading a double life.

And now we have a Miss Fisher movie to look forward to! This is a series that definitely deserves a good send-off, so we can’t wait.

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 2

We’ve rewatched and rated season 2 of the Australian 1920s detective series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The first season gave us lots of great episodes. Here’s how season 2 measured up:

  1. “Murder Most Scandalous” – 5.5
  2. “Death Comes Knocking” – 6
  3. “Dead Man’s Chest” – 7.5
  4. “Deadweight” – 6
  5. “Murder a la Mode” – 7
  6. “Marked for Murder” – 6
  7. “Blood at the Wheel” – 6.5
  8. “The Blood of Juana the Mad” – 5.5
  9. “Framed for Murder” – 10
  10. “Death on the Vine” – 7
  11. “Dead Air” – 7.5
  12. “Unnatural Habits” – 8
  13. “Murder under the Mistletoe” – 9.5

The average for this season is 7.1, which is pretty good and not too far off from season 1’s average of 7.4. There are some lackluster episodes balanced by a number of gems.

The lowest-rated episode is a tie between “Murder Most Scandalous,” in which our hero Phryne Fisher goes undercover at a gentlemen’s club, and “The Blood of Juana the Mad,” about the murder of a university professor which involves a secret hidden in a sixteenth-century manuscript. Both episodes have their good points, but they don’t hold together very well.

At the top of the chart this season we have “Framed for Murder,” a spirited romp surrounding a murder on a movie set which lovingly recreates both the glamour and the spit-and-bailing-wire spirit of early movie-making. When the movie’s director is killed, Phryne gets to step in and take over the job, complete with jodhpurs.

Any Miss Fisher fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 1

Our rewatching-and-rating project has moved on to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a delightful Australian series about a flamboyant flapper detective from the roaring 1920s, based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood. We don’t get a lot of Australian tv on this side of the world, but Miss Fisher is a treat from beginning to end. The first season is the best-rating season of anything we’ve watched so far. (For an explanation of our rating system, see here.)

Here’s our ratings for the first season’s episodes:

  1. “Cocaine Blues” – 9
  2. “Murder on the Ballarat Train” – 8
  3. “The Green Mill Murder” – 8
  4. “Death at Victoria Dock” – 8
  5. “Raisins and Almonds” – 8.5
  6. “Ruddy Gor” – 7.5
  7. “Murder in Montparnasse” – 6
  8. “Away with the Fairies” – 7.5
  9. “Queen of the Flowers” – 7
  10. “Death by Miss Adventure” – 9
  11. “Blood and Circuses” – 5.5
  12. “Murder in the Dark” – 7
  13. “King Memses’ Curse” – 5

There are so many things to love about this series, from the wonderful characters to complicated mysteries. It explores both the Jazz-Age high life of the post-WWI bright young things and the workaday world of early-twentieth-century Melbournites. The main character, sparklingly played by Essie Davis, is always entertaining and she’s surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.

The average rating for this season is 7.4, which is a fantastic way to start. Most of this season’s episodes are good to excellent, with only a couple that come in a little underwhelming. The lowest of the season is the final episode, “King Memses’ Curse,” which is just a rather uninspired serial killer story. The entertainment industry loves its serial killers—especially, like this one, those that have an irrational obsession with the hero—but we’re just tired of the trope.

Fortunately, we have a couple of 9s tied for best episode to balance out the lackluster ones. The first episode, “Cocaine Blues,” starts things off with a bang, sending Miss Fisher into a murder investigation that leads to cocaine smuggling and a back-alley abortionist. Many of our favorite characters get introduced here: Miss Fisher’s timid but trusty companion Dot, the acerbic Doctor Mac, the sweet-natured Constable Collins, and Inspector Jack Robinson, who, though often aggravated by Miss Fisher’s insistence on thrusting herself into his investigations, also learns to value her input. The other 9 is “Death by Miss Adventure,” about a mysterious death in a factory which reveals many layers of intrigue and skullduggery. This episode gives Dot a chance to go undercover and also delves in Doctor Mac’s life in more detail.

You could hardly ask for a better first season!

Any Miss Fisher fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, Season 5

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’ve gotten up through season 4. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s what we thought.

  1. “The (Very) Big Bird Job” – 6
  2. “The Blue Line Job” – 4
  3. “The First Contact Job” – 10
  4. “The French Connection Job” – 8
  5. “The Gimme a K Street Job” – 4
  6. “The D. B. Cooper Job” – 1.5
  7. “The Real Fake Job” – 6
  8. “The Broken Wing Job” – 10
  9. “The Rundown Job” – 10
  10. “The Frame-Up Job” – 9
  11. “The Low Low Price Job” – 8
  12. “The White Rabbit Job” – 3
  13. “The Corkscrew Job” – 6
  14. “The Toy Job” – 5
  15. “The Long Good-bye Job” – 9

Leverage goes out on a high note with an average rating of 6.6 for its final season, a small step up from 6.4 for season 4 and the best of any season. There are a mix of better and worse episodes this season, including a couple of real duds, but there’s a slew of 9s and 10s that just sparkle. This season has a mix of traditional con procedurals and more ambitious episodes that break out of the formula. The best episodes include both perfectly executed traditional grift stories and some of the more unusual attempts. The effort to do something different doesn’t always pay off, though, and this season’s failures are some of the episodes that stray farthest from the formula.

The absolute worst of the season—and in the running for worst of the entire series—is “The D. B. Cooper Job,” at 1.5, which, like season 4’s “The Van Gogh Job” is mostly about other characters played by the main cast, this time reinventing the story of skyjacker D. B. Cooper. While “The Van Gogh Job” had the advantage of a charming, if sad, love story, “The D. B. Cooper Job” is just a whole lotta brooding white guys being emotionally unavailable and stuff, which is pretty much the last thing we need more of on tv. Dishonorable mention also goes to “The White Rabbit Job,” at 3, which tries to do an Inception and seriously fails to pull it off.

Happily, we have three standouts tied for best of the season at a full 10 points. “The First Contact Job” is a kooky X-Files riff with a faked alien contact and tons of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi geek humor. “The Broken Wing Job” is a solo adventure for Parker (our favorite character!) which challenges her to figure out how to do the work of the whole team while recovering from a broken leg. Watching Beth Riesgraf play the whole range of Parker’s emotions from climbing-the-walls stir-crazy to oh-no-you-don’t-hurt-my-friend badass is a sheer delight. Finally, “The Rundown Job” trades in the series’ usual quirky humor for an action-packed bioterror thriller in Washington D. C. with just Parker, Hardison and Eliot (our three favorite characters!).

And that’s Leverage! A lot of good episodes and great characters. Well worth a rewatch!

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, season 4

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’ve gotten up through season 4. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s what we thought.

Leverage, season 4

  1. “The Long Way Down Job” – 5
  2. “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job” – 3
  3. “The 15 Minutes Job” – 8
  4. “The Van Gogh Job” – 6
  5. “The Hot Potato Job” – 10
  6. “The Carnival Job” – 5.5
  7. “The Grave Danger Job” – 8
  8. “The Boiler Room Job” – 10
  9. “The Cross My Heart Job” – 8.5
  10. “The Queen’s Gambit Job” – 4
  11. “The Experimental Job” – 8
  12. “The Office Job” – 1.5
  13. “The Girls’ Night Out Job” – 8.5
  14. “The Boys’ Night Out Job” – 6
  15. “The Lonely Hearts Job” – 6.5
  16. “The Gold Job” – 7
  17. “The Radio Job” – 4
  18. “The Last Dam Job” – 6

Leverage makes a jump in this season from last season’s average of 5.6 to 6.4. Despite a few poorly-performing episodes dragging down the average, there are a lot of gems this season that show off the skill of the writing team and the versatility of the cast. This season’s episodes continue to experiment with the form, such as “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job,” a Christie-esque murder mystery, the parallel stories of “The Girls’ Night Out Job” and “The Boys’ Night Out Job,” and “The Office Job,” which is just The Office with our heroes blundering around in it. Some of these efforts pay off; others, not so much.

The worst episode of the season is “The Office Job” at just 1.5. Maybe if you’re a fan of The Office you’ll enjoy this, but we’re not, and it just doesn’t work as a Leverage episode. “The 10 Li’l Grifters Job,” “The Queen’s Gambit Job,” and “The Radio Job” don’t work very well as episodes, but they all have their moments. Like last season, season 4 also has another half-hearted attempt at an arc which really isn’t worth the trouble the writers went to in setting it up.

On the other hand, we get two brilliant 10s out of this season: “The Hot Potato Job,” in which the crew rescues a bio-engineered super potato from an evil agri-corp, and “The Boiler Room Job,” in which our heroes have to figure out how to scam a scammer who knows all the scams in the book. Both of these episodes pit the characters against formidably smart adversaries who keep them on their toes. Besides these two, there’s also a good selection of 8s and 8.5s

There’s also an oddity this season: “The Van Gogh Job,” which we rated a 6. The two of us usually give episodes pretty close to the same rating, so when an episode rates a 6, that usually means we both gave it a 3 on our scale of 1 to 5. For this episode, though, we were poles apart: one 5 (because it’s a powerful emotional story that lets the main cast show off their range by playing entirely new characters) and one 1 (because it’s just not a Leverage story and there’s no con to watch unfold).

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Leverage cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Star Trek and Conflict

The word went out last week that Star Trek: Discovery will be ditching one of the long-standing rules of the franchise: that the main crew must not have conflicts with each other.

Good!

This rule has not only been an impediment to Star Trek‘s story-telling but represents a misunderstanding of Gene Roddenberry’s original hopeful vision for the future. Unfortunately, it is a misunderstanding perpetrated by Roddenberry himself, in his later years.

Star Trek has always been at its best when it embraced conflict among the crew. What is important is that those conflicts arise because different members of the crew honestly represent different points of view, not because they are driven by pettiness, jealousy, spite, greed, or other base instincts. The vision of Star Trek is that human conflicts driven by these basic flaws are unimportant distractions that we can overcome. When we achieve that, it doesn’t mean that we stop having conflicts, it just means that we can get down to the ones that actually mean something. We can argue passionately for our own points of view without devolving into petty sniping and backstabbing. We can disagree with someone else’s ideas and still respect and work with them.

This is why Deep Space Nine has always been my favorite version of Star Trek. It shows us characters who strongly disagree with each other, even to the point of yelling and storming out of rooms, but who still respect one another and work as a team. Their conflicts don’t get resolved at the end of the episode with one side proven right and the other wrong, because the conflicts that really matter are the ones that have no simple resolution. Exploring those kinds of conflicts is what Star Trek is about. It is why we have Star Trek. It is what Star Trek does.

If Discovery is going to give us more of that, then I couldn’t be happier. In these days of internet flame wars and political absolutism, the idea that we can argue about things that matter and still work together as a crew to escape the mysterious space energy field of the week is utopian enough for me.

Images: “Damn it, Spock” via Imgur. “No, but it is interesting” via Giphy. Sisko and Kira via Star Trek Gifs.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, Season 3

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’re through season 3. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s how the season looks to us.

Leverage, season 3

  1. “The Jailhouse Job” – 4.5
  2. “The Reunion Job” – 5
  3. “The Inside Job” – 7
  4. “The Scheherazade Job” – 4
  5. “The Double-Blind Job” – 5.5
  6. “The Studio Job” – 5.5
  7. “The Gone-Fishin’ Job” – 7
  8. “The Boost Job” – 5.5
  9. “The Three-Card Monte Job” – 1
  10. “The Underground Job” – 6
  11. “The Rashomon Job” – 8
  12. “The King George Job” – 7.5
  13. “The Morning After Job” – 4.5
  14. “The Ho, Ho, Ho Job” – 8
  15. “The Big Bang Job” – 4.5
  16. “The San Lorenzo Job” – 6

Season 3 has a lot of decent but not excellent episodes in the 4-6 range, but the average for the season is brought down to 5.6 (just a hint below season 2’s 5.7) by one real stinker.

To get the bad stuff out of the way first: “The Three-Card Monte Job” is the season’s worst episode and only total bomb. It’s a story about a father and son who have a bad relationship and are bad at communicating with each other. Snore. We are so, so over father-son angst. Even a few clever on-the-spot caper bits by the team can’t save this episode. This season also includes a half-hearted attempt at an arc which never really pays off, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the usual heists and capers too badly.

On the other hand, we have two solid episodes tied for best of the season at 8. “The Rashomon Job” is a sparklingly clever take on the heist genre as the main characters all recount, from their own perspectives, how once, before they all started working together, they were all after the same priceless work of art at the same time. The main cast really shines in this one as they get to play out different versions of the same scene, and so does John Billingsley in a brilliant guest performance. “The Ho, Ho, Ho Job” is a feel-good Christmas episode that also features the return of Wil Wheaton’s pain-in-the-ass hacker Kaos. There are lovely character bits in this episode, too, including Parker’s childlike love of Christmas and Elliot playing the grumpiest Santa Claus ever.

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Leverage cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Leverage, Season 2

We’ve been rewatching and rating Leverage and we’ve got season 2 under our belts now. (For more on how our rating system works, see here, which also covers season 1 of Leverage.) Here’s our take on the season.

Leverage, season 2

  1. “The Beantown Bailout” – 5.5
  2. “The Tap-Out Job” – 2.5
  3. “The Order 23 Job” – 6
  4. “The Fairy Godparents Job” – 4.5
  5. “The Three Days of the Hunter Job” – 8
  6. “The Top Hat Job” – 2
  7. “The Two Live Crew Job” – 8
  8. “The Ice Man Job” – 8
  9. “The Lost Heir Job” – 7
  10. “The Runway Job” – 5.5
  11. “The Bottle Job” – 5.5
  12. “The Zanzibar Marketplace Job” – 4
  13. “The Future Job” – 7
  14. “The Three Strikes Job” – 8
  15. “The Maltese Falcon Job” – 4

This season is a lot of highs and lows. Several weak episodes are balanced out by a number of strong ones. The average for the season is 5.7, which is respectable but a step down from season 1, which averaged just under 6. The show was finding its footing this season and striking out in some new directions, which sometimes paid off but other times just fell flat.

We have a four-way tie for the best episode, all at a solid 8. In “The Three Days of the Hunter Job” the team manufactures a government conspiracy in order to discredit a ruthless reporter. In “The Two Live Crew Job,” they compete with another team (featuring Wil Wheaton as a pain-in-the-ass hacker!) to steal a priceless painting. In “The Ice Man Job,” Hardison, the hacker, gets in over his head while trying to show that he can get out from behind the computer and do an in-person grift, and the rest of the team has to improvise a heist around him to get him out. In “The Three Strikes Job,” the whole team get in over their head as they get tangled up in a larger plot involving the mob, the FBI, and a corrupt mayor. All of these episodes play with the heist/con formula in interesting ways and give the actors a chance to stretch their wings and tackle something new. In these episodes, we really see the creative team’s willingness to tinker with the mechanics of the procedural format pay off well.

The lesser episodes of the season also show attempts to vary the formula, but they don’t come off as well. The worst of the season is “The Top Hat Job,” at only 2. In this episode, the heist is pretty simple and most of the screentime is taken up by the team’s distraction event: Nate, the most mediocre and uninteresting character on the team, putting on a mediocre and uninteresting magic show.

Any Leverage fans out there want to weigh in? Got a different pick for the best or worst episodes of the season? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Leverage cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Logan

Random thoughts on Logan in no particular order. Spoilers ahead.

Logan Promo Poster Silhouetted Sunset

  • The movie was an interesting take on westerns. I know very little about that genre, but even I could thell the homage was there.
  • As expected, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman were phenomenal.
  • It was very, very bleak, bleaker than I thought, and I went in expecting a certain amount of bleak.
  • The “Logan and his peeps” story was touching, but the “evil corporate types are evil” story I found cliched, boring, and corny. Those two facets of the plot didn’t really mesh well in my opinion. And speaking of evil corporate types: what’s with the mechanical hand attachments that so many of the evil army types sported? Their version of a goon uniform?? It was odd.
  • I was left wanting an explanation of what it was that Professor X did in Westchester that traumatized him so. (I may have missed it if it was there, since we didn’t see Logan subtitled.)
  • It was great to see something of the midwestern states (instead of the ever-present New York City, for example). For one thing, I had no idea Oklahoma City was so big.

Image via Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.